My hardest part: explaining Depression to my parents

How do you tell your knights at arms to put down their weapons?

Since developing chronic depression four years ago, among the hardest parts of my day-to-day illness has been trying to explain how I feel to my parents.

Not because the explaining in and of itself is difficult ; it is. Moreso, because I’m privileged to have two parents who adore me and would bend over backwards to help me weather any and every one of life’s challenges.

Because describing depression to a set of parents such as these means telling them there’s a creature lurking under the bed they can’t banish with a flashlight — telling them this, knowing the news will hurt them as much as feelings of anxiety and sadness hurt me. Knowing that despite their words of wisdom and comfort, they will ultimately blame themselves for their own inescapable inaction.

That’s the hard part.

I called my parents on my lunch break today when I couldn’t keep myself from crying and asked them to talk, to pass the time. They moved past their concerned questions fairly quickly and launched into their day, their retirement-status woodworking and the fire burning in the Georgia mountains, Thanksgiving and Christmas plans, and did you see that mini apple pie recipe I shared on Facebook? I think I’m going to make that this year if we’re having six people for dinner.

When the conversation waned and I felt better, I resumed my walk. Like clockwork, I received a text two minutes later.

Love you. I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t worried about you. Talk to me anytime, Let me know if we can help. Take care of yourself. 
Heart emojis, x3.

I withheld my depression symptoms from my parents for so many years because I didn’t want them to hear that they couldn’t cure it with their formerly successful mom-and-dad magic. With the guilt that would awash the three of us both, I would know that depression had reached out with its ruddy claws and attacked my family, too. Where they couldn’t save me, perhaps I could save them.

My father, getting older, has his share of emotional mountains to climb. I can hear his struggle in the strain of his voice when he very quickly hangs up from a nighttime conversation, the mental image of my anxiety too much for him to bear. But on the same day, during my drive home, he wished aloud, again, that he could understand what depression was. That maybe if he knew, he could help. A well-meant fallacy, given that for all my research into clinical depression I can barely help myself.

“Dad, you watch a lot of Harry Potter, right?” I asked. He never read the books, but became enamored by the movies.

“I guess so.” (Yes.) “We’re almost finished with number seven.”

“Do you know what Dementors are? The hooded, flying things in the third movie?”

“Yeah.”

“I read that J.K. Rowling was inspired by her own depression to create the Dementor characters,” I went on. “They represent the key difference between depression and just sadness. Sadness is, ‘I am sad; I am not happy.’ Depression is, ‘I am sad; I will never be happy again.’”

It’s always hard to say that last. But when the chemicals in my brain become so imbalanced, they shift my subconscious worldview. I logically know color must exist, but I open my eyes and can’t see the blue of the sky to save me.

He fell silent for a moment. I was afraid I went too far. I mentally reached for a way to change the subject without veering into the trajectory of politics.

“You know,” he finally said, “when I was going through some things in my life, I remember…I remember thinking the same thing.”

I didn’t dare interrupt; I barely breathed. My father isn’t an open-up sort of man. I only know snapshot segments of his life between the age of 18 and when he married my mother at 33, and they weren’t all pretty.

“I remember thinking that I wouldn’t be happy again,” he muttered. Went quiet.

“…Well,” I start again, “anyone can gain a mental illness at any point in their lives; it doesn’t have to be chronic. If those were your thoughts at that time, then…”

“…Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

He takes a deep breath. “Well, thank you for sharing some of how that feels with me. It helps me to understand.”

I knew then that if my depression must reach my parents in any form, I could strive to settle for the form of understanding.